Monday, December 7, 2009

“Monkey Mind” or "Mind Chatter”

Everyone has Monkey Mind at some time or another – indeed Monkey Mind is one of the things that separates man from beast. It’s that nagging nasty voice that says things that upset us…. Or take us off course… or lead us into making delusional mistakes. It is the antitheses of reason or intuition.

This author once wanted to make a cartoon illustrating Monkey Mind.

It’s a two part cartoon titled “Eve and the Tree of Knowledge”

* In part one, the serpent is tempting Eve to partake of the apple, and she does.

* In Part two, she turns toward Adam and thinks, “I just know that he thinks I’m too fat.”

As Harry Potter and Ron Weasley enter their teenage years in book four, J.K. Rowling introduces the idea of Mind Chatter – not specifically but through the thoughts and reactions of both boys – as Harry drives himself to distraction with rage as he feels more and more isolated and put upon by the weight of his life’s purpose and Dumbledore’s strange attitude toward him. Ron is distracted by his own false beliefs that Harry hasn’t included him in his activities. It is part of Rowling’s genius that she includes those thoughts and feelings, with which all of us struggle, for examination in her characters. Not only do her books create a parallel universe, but they create parallels of thought and belief with which all of us can identify.

There are three lines of thought for all of us including the characters we read, write, read about and act:

* Conscious and reasoned: which is problem solving, logical and ordered.

* Intuition: which is a quiet guidance, sometimes considered to be divine, that leads smoothly to perfect solutions of problems.

* Monkey Mind which is a nasty, screaming, worrying voice that occupies a great deal of our waking time and can lead us to making grave mistakes.

* Insanity: which is Monkey Mind run amok – disjointed and disconnected to any links in reality.

Hamlet’s Ophelia is a great exploration of insanity within the context of character. Shakespeare does not take her into dark realms, of which she might actually be unaware given her innocent nature, but keeps her young and unexposed, and lets her go insane in character. The outcome is the same, she dies. And it’s much more interesting than if she had suddenly turned into Lady MacBeth - who he also drives to insanity – dark, frightening insanity commensurate with her life and deeds. Shakespeare explores a unique concept with Ophelia - the concept that torture and torment don't have to be dark and chilling.

Shakespeare explored Monkey Mind in the “To be, or be” speech in Hamlet. Characters who contemplate suicide, even in iambic pentameter, are definitely at the effect of “Monkey Mind.” Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem from which the character can see no escape. It is a cry for change. Suicide itself is change incarnate.

A wonderful writing or acting exercise is to explore the character’s Monkey Mind. A marvelous term paper idea would be to create the underpinnings of Monkey Mind that lead to some action that the character took. Mind Chatter that the author may not have explored in the actual writing. The characters in almost any Elizabeth George book could lead to hours of Monkey Mind exploration because they’re so psychologically rich. Indeed, she explores the Monkey Mind thinking of her villains in great depth.

Questions about Mind Chatter include: Give examples of the character’s Monkey Mind. Contrast Monkey Mind with the character’s reasoned thought and intuition. How does Monkey Mind advance the plot? How does it enhance the conflict between characters? How does it advance the reader’s understanding of the character? What Monkey Mind would you give to a character that you feel the author left out of the story?

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